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{Book cover} St. Stephen's
By Sky Gilbert
A mis Fit book, Published by Insomniac Press
179 pages, $19.99
Review by Michael Cottrell

The book St. Stephen's had been sitting on my desk for a couple of months now. I know it is not what a publicist wants, but I just couldn't get down to reading the work. It is Sky Gilbert, after all, a gay icon in the fabric of queer Toronto and well, you know he can be kind of weird. Gilbert as an artist likes to push the envelope. Now don't get me wrong, I started St. Stephen's when it landed on my desk, I really did and I thought... oh, I need time for this one.

As luck would have it, I was continuously bumping into Sky, if not him personally, then his work. There was the movie My Summer Vacation... yes, he did a movie! He just directed his own play, The Emotionalists. What struck me with these encounters was that Sky Gilbert is not a pretentious artist. This multitalented man is, more than anything, approachable. It was through these encounters that I was drawn back to his writing and curled up with St Stephen's for a good read.

"It is the whole atmosphere -- living in a gay neighbourhood and seeing your local gay lonely cases and your local drag queens panhandling on the street. For instance, we have this really funny-looking drag queen in our city named Wendy who sings off-key to a ukulele, and we all love her. And the gay barbershop [...]"

St Stephen's is not biographical. It is fiction. But Gilbert has taken real-life situations, or at least real characters, and catapulted them into his tale. Sky the writer had me hooked and I went along for the ride.

If you have ever ventured into the Toronto ghetto (oooops sorry, for those upscale boys, "The village"), then you will howl with laughter at recognizing the "gay Tourette's" guy that Jack, the main character, speaks of. Come to think of it, I haven't been called Mary all winter. Where is that gay Tourette's guy anyhow?

At first, Gilbert's style of storytelling can be disconcerting. It is written in the first person, that being Jack, who continuously digresses. Have you sat with your granny and she tells stories that go every which way, and then you have to shake your head and wonder what the hell she is talking about? That's a granny's tale -- Jack tells a fag's tale.

Jack unfolds his story about St Stephen's "College", an academic setting we are not quite sure where, but it is here that Jack goes to follow a teaching position in theatre direction.

St Stephen's is an entertaining read. There is no political agenda being hammered out, just good old storytelling. Gilbert unravels his book one thread at a time, while at the same time able to weave back into the main story. That is adept story writing.

I found myself just as interested in Jack's little memory jaunts as I was about the whole story. It is in the little side trips that the juicy bits are found. What is a gay novel if there aren't any juicy bits to tantalize us with?

St Stephen's makes for a great summer read when one can lull around enjoying reading Gilbert's work and reminiscing of those college boys -- I mean, days!

Book cover: photo by Paul Forsyth; design by Schrödinger's Cat

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